A look back at the first USA OCR National Championships

Take a look at the start line pictures from your local mud run, or “obstacle race.”

Unlike a 5k or marathon line-up showcasing emaciated, linear body types, these photos are usually more of “type-A” line-up. Your OCR start-line is dominated by big arms, distended abs, tattoos, and spandex, lots and lots of spandex. You’d be forgiven in dismissing this strange collection, this burning man/cross-fit baby, as being nothing more than a fad that takes itself a bit too seriously.

But look closely and you might see, sandwiched between heavily tattooed Cross-fitters in checkered board shorts, juiced out powerlifters, and hobbyjoggers with dad-bods, a glimpse of one or two thin, serious-looking runners rocking short shorts and bright invov8 shoes. You’d be remiss if you thought they were nothing more than a marathoner trying something new.

No, these are the first of the professional athletes of this new sport, battling week in and out on the muddy for chicken-scratch prizes and sponsorship, much like the Steve Scotts or Prefontaine’s of track and field’s early post-amateur years.


Despite its lack of experience as opposed to other sports with Olympic dreams (the sport, in the US at least, has been around just under 10 years) obstacle racing has serious Olympic aspirations. This past weekend some of the top athletes in the OCR world met up in Miami to compete over a 3 mile course. At stake were spots on America’s newly-announced Pan-American team, which will spend the coming year racing exhibition races in North and South america before heading down to the Pan-am games.

While the aforementioned weekend-warrior crowd might pay OCR’s bills, it was the runners who were the focus on this special course. It is these same runners who are instigating an identity crisis in a sport attempting to be both commercial and Olympic in its aspirations, ideas that time and time again have proven to be mutually exclusive.

While participation numbers may be down as a whole since, say, 2010, the mainstream popularity of obstacle racing has exploded in recent years. Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have defied their fringe labels to become household names, benefiting from renewed interest in natural, gymnastic-like movements thanks to the explosion of Crossfit and shows like the ratings-dominating American Ninja Warrior.

NBC, NBC sports, ESPN, and CBS have all begun to devote substantial airtime to their own specific versions of the obstacle race. Even Netflix (Ultimate Beastmaster) and CMT (Broken Skull Ranch) are cashing in on the obstacle/mud-run movement. Sponsors the likes of Panasonic and Reebok have jumped into the fray, marketing action cameras and sport-specific shoes (with built in drainage and extra grip for obstacles like rope climbs) to the mostly middle-aged, upper-middle class participants who shell big bucks for a few miles of mud and object carries on a weekly basis (A typical Spartan race entry costs around $125). Jeep, Coors light, Subway, and others have highlighted the sport in their TV spots.


But why mess around with the massive headaches of properly planning and executing a race when the potential of TV money lies waiting? Battlefrog, previously one of the biggest competitors to Spartan Race, and one with a large, passionate fan base, had a similar thought. They disbanded their race series, fired their staff, and are attempting to jump to ESPN or other networks with a televised racing series.

In this streaming age ESPN is seeing its lowest ratings ever and even dropped 1.5 million subscribers in 2016, according to adage.com. Yet the show has been reviewed well and BattleFrog seems to have no intentions of returning to the original fanbase that made it a household name. 

They say once a rapper uses your name in a song you’ve made it, and in late 2015 Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller dropped the first known OCR-related line in his song “Brand Name” :

“American-ninja to these obstacles, no stopping me…” (Things go downhill quickly from there with euphemisms to ladies of the night and services but you get the point)

I think its safe to say OCR has officially become more than a fad; it has established itself as a concrete societal mainstay. So it’s here, but what’s its identity? Is it a cash cow, a grassroots movement, a professional runner’s sport, or some combination of the three?


Back to that Miami starting line. For an event with as much buzz surrounding it as this, the photos told a different story. The participant #’s were slim, the obstacles borrowed from other sports (Spartan has decided to use biathlon’s lazer pistol as its featured penalty-inducing obstacle), and the athletes fast, fit, runners competing on a fast, flat course where the more traditional cross-fit body-types didn’t stand a chance.


This was labeled a “short-course” by Spartan, and it was shorter than usual, at least by OCR standards, with a sub 30-minute completion time.

But that’s not a “short-course” by any other sport’s standards; after all, the longest track and field event, the 10km, takes around 27 minutes to complete. From an aerobic standpoint, the same athlete who wins an 11-minute running race will, with proper training, be the best in a 2 hr race, and this is often the case, with Ryan Atkins, Hunter McIntyre, Amelia Boone, and other endurance mainstays winning events no matter the course. Spartan attempts to change this by introducing heavy obstacles to even out the playing field, but it could be argued that when events attempt to even out a playing field, the opposite as actually being done.

Fast-forward 30 minutes and Mark Batres crossed the line in first for the males, followed by former Spartan World Champion Robert Killian and upcoming speedster Mike Ferguson. An upland, California native, Batres boasts prs of 13:44 in the 5k and sub-30 minutes in the 10km.

Obstacles can be learned; aerobic capacity can not. If the sport continues this way we may be seeing a field of Kenyans sweeping podiums 5 years from now. 

And Batre’s prize for being crowned the first USA OCR champ and Pan-American team member on the most-hyped weekend of the year? A meager $300.

Throw in a flight from Cali, rental car, hotel, and race entry, Mark likely left in the red (disregarding sponsors, and any unmentioned payouts of course).

So we’re seeing progress on the corporate side of the sport, but we’re not seeing much of a trickle down to the athletes themselves.

But that will change. 

Although optimists were saying the same about track and field some 40 years ago…

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Spartan World Championship Results 2016 (Men)

2016-spartan-championship

Hobie Call surprised the OCR world by winning the 2016 Spartan World Championship in Lake Tahoe Saturday morning. Call stayed mostly quiet for the bulk of the season, then showed up yesterday and beat out a stellar field.

In 2016, 39 year old Hobie did participate in (and win) 2 BoneFrogs, the Utah BattleFrog, and The Utah Spartan Super. The last being his ticket, er coin, to Tahoe. This, however, is a far cry from the 20 plus races a year he used to do show up and dominate, prior to his first (sort of) retirement.

Not many expected Call to be victorious after he stayed mostly quiet and did not participate in the 5 race US Spartan Points Series. The 3 men who battled it out all year for that series were Ryan Atkins, last year’s Spartan Champ Robert Killian, and Hunter McIntyre (who has yet to win the big Spartan dance). They finished 2nd, 3rd, and 6th respectively.

Here are the rest of today’s top male finishers:

2016-world-champion-hobie-call

 

 

1 Hobie Call 2:25:33
2 Ryan Atkins 2:25:59
3 Robert Killian 2:28:10
4 Jon Albon 2:29:30
5 Cody Moat 2:32:30
6 Hunter McIntyre 2:33:09
7 Peter Ziska 2:33:53
8 Chad Trammell 2:37:22
9 Isaiah Vidal 2:37:33
10 Glen Racz 2:38:36

 

 

 

 

Spartan World Champions History

Year          Venue                           Winner                         2nd                              3rd

2011         Glen Rose TX            Hobie Call              Josiah Middaugh        Junyong Pak

2012        Killington, VT            Cody Moat              Hobie Call                    Brakken Kraker

2013        Killington, VT            Hobie Call               Matt Murphy              Hunter McIntyre

2014        Killington, VT            Jon Albon              Ryan Atkins                  Cody Moat

2015       Squaw Valley, CA       Robert Killian       Ryan Atkins                  Cody Moat

2016      Squaw Valley, CA        Hobie Call              Ryan Atkins                  Robert Killian

 

Hunter McIntyre Interview

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Hunter McIntyre Interview

Episode 195 – Believe it or not, we have never dedicated an entire show to Hunter McIntyre. The closest being a 20 minute sit down back in April of 2014 as part of the USOCR episode. On today’s show, Hunter and Matt discuss:

  • The Boundless episode where he took on a French 140km bike race (and lost)
  • Why he is training to be an “endurance athlete” and not necessarily a “Spartan Racer”
  • His new World’s Toughest Mudder 2016 teammate (and why he was chosen)
  • The recent Spartan DQ’s and what Spartan can do better
  • Much, much more

Today’s episode is sponsored by

KitBrix – Get your KitBrox bag for schlepping your stuff to races.

Obstacle Guard – Code ORM gets you 10% off all orders in the U.S.

Show Notes:

The USOCR podcast from May 2014

Boundless on Esquire Network

Click the play button below or click the iTunes or Stitcher links at the top of the page.

Spartan Race’s New “U.S. Championship Series”

Spartan Race are announcing a brand new “U.S. Championship Series” which will have payouts of $100,000 and coincide with all of the NBC televised races this year.

Here are the highlights. (Entire press release can be found at the end of this article).

  • Spartan are essentially creating a “mini season” with 5 televised races.
  • They have chosen to give each of the 5 races a cool sounding name.
  • Each race in the Series will pay the first 5 places a larger payout than regular races.
  • Overall Series payouts will pay down to 20 places
  • You must race 4 of the 5 races to qualify as Series Champion.
  • There will still be a separate “*Spartan World Champion” crowned at the Beast in Tahoe. To qualify for the Tahoe Championship, athletes need a coin to participate, just as they did in 2015. Read all about earning your 2016 coin here.

*This once a year race has been how Spartan have determined champions since 2011. It was held in Glen Rose, Texas in 2011, Killington, Vermont from 2012-2014, and Tahoe in 2015.

Here is the lineup for this first ever Championship Series.

Event: Montana Sprint   Name: Big Sky Sprint

Race Date: May 8    TV Date: July 20

Montana Spartan

Event: Monterey Super   Name: Golden State Classic

Race Date: June 4    TV Date: August 23

Monterey Spartan

Event: Pennsylvania Super   Name: Blue Mountain Challenge

Race Date: July 16    TV Date: August 23

Palmerton Spartan Race

Event: Asheville Super   Name: Southeast Showdown

Race Date: August 6   TV Date: September 27

Asheville Spartan Super

Event: Breckenridge Beast   Name: The Summit

Race Date: August 27  TV Date: October 11

Spartan Breckenridge

We reached out to several top racers for their reactions.

Amelia Boone, Spartan Pro Team. WTM Champ 2012, 2013, 2015 and Spartan Points Champion 2015 told us:

I’m stoked! I also appreciate Spartan’s attempt to make each race into a WWE pay-per-view. I hope it comes with entrance music for each competitor.

Lindsay Webster, BattleFrog Pro Team,  2nd in last year’s Tahoe Championship, 2015 OCRWC Champion said:

Elite athletes in OCR really appreciate Spartan’s efforts to grow and televise the sport, and it looks like they’ve come up with another great way to do it here. Not only does this give us some fantastic opportunities to go head-to-head with our top competitors on a regular basis throughout the season, but the televised coverage goes such a long way for us as athletes in gaining exposure for ourselves.

Chad Trammell, Spartan Pro Team, 2015 WTM Champ responded with:

This guarantees all the top guys will be at all the races! Last year it seemed like about half of the top racers would show up at a given TV race, but there won’t be any ducking the competition this year. I know this announcement already has me reconfiguring my summer schedule to attend all the TV races.

2105 Tahoe Championship Robert Killian added:

With training going well and a great start to the season, I’m pumped to hear that Spartan Race will put on the first National Championship series pitting Americans best against each other. This is what our sport needs to take it to the next level and I’m honored to be a part of it. I’ll be blunt, I want the title! Especially since the last race will be held in Breckenridge Colorado where I finished my first Spartan Race last year.

Spartan released a teaser video this afternoon.

$100,000+ in Prizes. 5 Races. 1 Champion. Introducing the Spartan U.S. Championship Series. Race it then watch on NBCSN. http://sprtn.im/ChampionshipSeries2016

Posted by Spartan Race on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Posted by Spartan Race on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Some additional info can be found here.

The complete press release can be found here.